No single leader or agency has the capacity to drive change at scale. It takes all of us, pulling together over time to make major improvements for our city and communities. And to work well together, we must have a fundamental commitment to sharing everything from resources, to goals, to decisions.
But sharing does not always come naturally. It’s a truth that we see play out over and over – when raising our children, when making decisions about our own time and energy, and when navigating our professional lives. There is something instinctive inside that prompts us to guard and protect.
Part of this instinct is pure survival. It keeps toddlers from giving away their lunch. It helps adults fend off exhaustion and catastrophe. And it keeps the organizations for which we work from going bankrupt. In reality, resources typically are limited. They need to be carefully watched and observed.
But there is another layer to our being, one that rejoices in sharing and sees the magic it can bring. When this gear is activated, a deeper abundance can appear.
I routinely see abundance in action through my work running the P16Plus Council of Greater Bexar County, a collective impact organization that helps youth-serving institutions across Bexar County work together toward a shared vision and set of outcomes.
Through our action networks and board of directors, we provide a dedicated structure for leaders to make strategic decisions and commitments together, impacting both their own institutions and Bexar County more broadly. For example, while nonprofit organizations like the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, and the Girl Scouts will always compete for their own budgets and unique visions, through Excel Beyond the Bell San Antonio these and 42 other organizations are actively sharing an approach to strategic planning, staff development, and program measurement.
In another case, through the San Antonio Youth Commission, municipal policymakers are actively sharing power with youth leaders to help inform and guide policy decisions that will affect their lives.
This is collective impact in action. It is the heart and soul of our work.
When Mayor Phil Hardberger started P16Plus with former Zachry Group CEO Bartell Zachry in 2008, deep collaboration and strategic partnership were at the core of his vision.
“The problem [of education] is everyone’s problem, as it will affect every aspect of this community for generations to come," Hardberger said in his founding address. "No one group or agency is responsible. No one group or agency can solve this problem. Business, government, education, and community groups must unite behind a plan and ensure that it is carried out for years to come.”
P16Plus is still carrying that torch – helping key education players keep the bigger vision and possibilities in mind. However, since becoming the executive director eight months ago, I have also expanded our focus to include other major institutions that shape youth outcomes, including new partners like the San Antonio Housing Authority.
We have become increasingly focused on building and supporting partnerships across sectors, a move that is aligned with the national StriveTogether network that helps guide our work. We care deeply about a school’s ability to team up with its community partners, from out-of-school time programs to mental health providers, as well as the ability of colleges, universities, and industries to work with schools.
The strength or weakness of these partnerships shapes an immense number of young people's daily lives and, ultimately, their life outcomes. If children struggle with depression for the first time and start missing classes, do they have the resources they need to get help? Does students' learning get extended beyond the school day in intentional ways? Can juniors in high school easily start to earn college credits and, in so doing, increase their future earning potential?
These are the cross-sector questions that drive us. They also show up as guiding goals in our new strategic plan, to which we’ve cemented our commitment: Remove obstacles to participation in school, increase access to high-quality out-of-school time programs, and ensure that young people graduate high school ready for the future, through higher education alignment strategies such as dual credit.
None of our goals are attainable without a fiercely collaborative spirit and a deep, abiding commitment to sharing strategy across youth-serving institutions. For only when leveraging our combined power and possibilities, does magic become possible.
If you help run an out-of-school time program, please join Excel Beyond the Bell at its May 15 annual summit at the Oblate School of Theology. You can learn more and register here.